By: Jim Kushner.
It is that time of year when there is not a whole lot going on in the world of hunting & fishing. Depending on where you live in the State of Michigan there may be good ice or not. There are some predator hunters or trappers still out there but mainly it’s that time when you are either preparing for the spring turkey hunt or in my case, just thinking about
hunting. Lately, I am thinking and doing a lot of reading about rifles & cartridges.
My focus on long guns has always been geared towards hunting rather than target shooting (pinpoint accuracy or competition). That is not to say that I do not enjoy seeing small groups at 100 yards from my hunting guns. If you know your gun is capable of threading the needle and that kind of shots is all you have then you will have the confidence to take it. Once I had a deer standing behind a big tree with nothing but the head and a small portion of the neck showing. With my 30-30 I would have been sitting there saying “one more step”. With my .280 and the solid rest I had at the time I didn’t hesitate to take that shot. It really does pay to spend as much time at the range as you can so you know what your rifle can do.
Hunting accuracy is only another term for something like, good enough for the range I’ll be shooting at or minute of deer. If you hunt in a thick cedar swamp you usually get a close shot or nothing at all. At less than 50 yards most any decent deer rifle, even with open sights can make a neck shot possible. While I am on the subject of neck shots I am inclined to suggest that you only take a neck shot if it’s really necessary or if you have a really high expectation that you can make the shot. Looking at the average deer’s neck, the spine and main arteries are a pretty small target. I have hit two deer in the neck where the spine was not hit. The first one I hit to far forward, both main arteries were severed and he only went a little ways leaving a wide blood trail. The other deer was walking fast & I just made a bad shot, hitting only one artery, that one went quite a bit farther. Not hard to track but I really would rather for the deer’s sake have placed my shot better. Especially since I was shooting at the shoulder. No excuses for my shooting, sometimes you take the shot you are offered or you don’t.
Like everything there are popular trends in life, cars, trucks instead of cars, suv’s instead of mini vans, etc. It’s no different in guns and their cartridges. If manufacturers don’t offer something new then sales are unlikely to remain profitable because we like new stuff, I know I do. A collection of 30-30’s that are exactly alike isn’t all that interesting.
Lately the trend has been in long range shooting and a lot of “tactical” type weapons. I would say that the tactical trend got started a little before the long range hunting rifles so lets start there. Gun manufacturers started to offer AR type rifles in a variety of configurations. Most were very “tactical” but eventually some of them were configured to appeal specifically to the hunter. At first there were really only two caliber options .223 or the heavier AR10 in .308. From there things grew to where they are now. Quite a large variety of calibers and configurations to choose from. While I have been tempted personally a few times I just never did end up with one myself. If you have read any of my other stuff here you know pretty much why I guess. Nothing more than my personal preference. Many of these offerings from the gun manufacturers are really awesome and a lot of people love them and hunt with them. A huge improvement over the M16 that started it all back in the Vietnam war days.
The long range trend is still going strong and it is pretty cool when you can get a tiny little bullet to hit a tiny little target so far away it’s hard to see any of it much less the X ring. Long range target shooting has been around for a very long time but there were much fewer people willing to put in the time to do it, not to mention having the ability & eyesight also. 1000 yards with black powder cartridges and open sights? Military rifles, “National Match” at 1000 yards, again with open sights. I put the guys who won those matches right up there with any of the top athletes of the world.
Today you can get a factory built rifle in any number of cartridges with any number of features and configurations to allow the average guy at least a chance of hitting targets way the hell out there. Having never attempted it myself I still think there is a lot more to it if you want to really be competitive. Ask any military sniper. Long range hunting is maybe/probably more popular than competitive shooting. I am out of my element here because the longest shot I have ever even taken at a deer was around 150 yards and if you averaged the distance in my lifetime of hunting it would probably be no more than 50 yards or so. The fact is I really enjoy seeing deer up close. Where I hunt I do see deer at long distances occasionally but they are usually only visible for a very short time & by the time I know its a legal buck the opportunity for a shot is gone. In most cases the average off the shelf deer rifle is more than accurate enough for deer hunting around here.
When it comes to cartridges for hunting, even if it is “long range” hunting the choices are huge. Factory ammo is superb in some guns and calibers and if you reload there are almost unlimited options and combinations of components to try when looking for the perfect load for your rifle. Nothing at all wrong with that but in reality it’s just not needed for the average guy who wants to go hunting almost anywhere. Pick up an old hunting magazine, even a really old one and you will read about many successful hunters who used guns you would be laughed at for even considering. At least by some people who have more opinions then real knowledge. Ever hear of the Johnson buck? It was the longest standing #1 buck ever taken for many many years and it was taken with a cartridge so small and old you probably can’t even find a box of shells for it today. That buck was shot in Wisconsin in 1914 with a Winchester 25-20! Jordan is reported to have killed a doe earlier the same day also.
The 25-06 is popular with a lot of hunters today. The bullet may be the same diameter as the 25-20 but the ballistics are worlds apart. Something more like comparing the .22lr to the 22-250. Please don’t get me wrong. I am not saying anyone should be deer hunting with something like the 25-20. There are way better cartridges suitable to humanly killing a deer without going overboard. There will always be stories written and arguments made for what is the perfect deer cartridge. There really isn’t just one that fits everyone and every place. Luckily we have lot’s of options and as long as it’s legal who cares what you use. A wise opinion I’ve heard is, use the cartridge that will get the job done when things go wrong not just when everything goes right. Another one is something like, if you own a 30-06 then you don’t need anything else in your gun safe. I have to agree with that one, the ‘06 is pretty good no matter what you decide to do with it.
I may be rambling a little bit here but I recently read on one of the hunting forums a question about the very popular term, dead right there (or DRT). Some people felt that the only shot they wanted was one that would drop the deer right there, legs folded up and they never move after that. Others feel it’s more reasonable to shoot for the heart/lung shot because it offers a bigger target while still all but guaranteeing the animal dies quickly and tracking is easy enough if even necessary. In reality there are a lot of factors that determine if you can make a shot at all. In much of Michigan if a nice buck comes hurrying past your stand you don’t have a lot of time to decide on a neck or high shoulder shot or the classic behind the shoulder shot.
I think it’d be great if every deer shot were DRT but I am ok with the heart /lung shot and a little tracking if necessary. I took my nephew on his first deer hunt. He had handled a rifle before but wanted to try deer hunting so I took him out during the youth season. The night before we talked about bullet placement and the importance of not just knowing where to hit but to also know where that bullet would exit and what was in between. The next morning he was fortunate to have a nice 8 point walk by at less than 50 yards. When the deer stopped perfectly broadside he hit it a little behind the shoulder. As the deer ran off I saw that it only went about 50 yards and dropped. He did not see the deer go down so I made him wait a little while and then we went to see if there was any blood where he had been standing. We tracked the deer from there, it was not a hard trail to follow.
I don’t personally know of any bow hunters who expect to see DRT when they shoot a deer. They watch the direction the deer goes after the shot and many many times will see or hear it go down. Some deer seem to go a lot farther than others. I have seen deer run a short ways, stop and stand there looking around before dropping. Others run as fast as possible until they fall and for some strange reason some deer just seem to be able to run a lot farther when solidly hit than others.
There are a lot of factors in shooting a deer & recovering it. Make sure you and your equipment are all up to the task. Long range or short, including high quality tracking equipment. My backpack contains mine. Shoot straight!
Editor’s side note about the featured (gun) pic: